The Philippines are not usually on the well-trodden touristy paths of south-east Asia, but don’t let that trick you away from this beach paradise
No tour of the Philippines can start without a stay in its charismatic capital city. Make sure you eat at Café Juanita, where dishes like pork adobo and pasta with crab-fat sauce are the closest you will find to Filipino home-cooked food. Check out the Greenbelt 3, a luxury mall that combines commerce with Catholicism (redress your sins by contributing towards local talent). Check out excellent indie bands every night in the live-music capital of SE Asia. No trip can be perfect unless planned in advance. You can check out flights to Manila here and book tickets beforehand.
This is the Philippines’ greenest city, committed to environmental excellence; it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and probably one of the most beautiful spots in all of south-east Asia. Take a ride on the subterranean river that winds eight kilometres under a mountain range, all part of a national park that is home to a stunning array of biodiversity. Swim, snorkel, or island-hop for lunch-picnics; visit the beaches of Nagtoban, Marufinas and Napsan for solitude and pristine beauty. Book hotels in Puerto Princesa well in advance to ensure pleasurable stay.
El Nido and Bacuit Archipelago
To get to the stunningly beautiful Bacuit Archipelago, you have to go through El Nido, described by many as the best beach destination in the Philippines. You must island-hop through the Bacuit Islands, with their limestone cliffs, sinkholes and lagoons. You can charter a boat and spend several days here, exploring each island. Take a kayak tour around the enigmatic Cadlao Island; have a few beers at the hidden bar at Commando Beach, or just snorkel around. Here is the the El Nido Hotels list from where you can know everything about the hotels from services to rates.
Another of nature’s splendour, aptly nicknamed Paradise Island of the Philippines, Boracay is all coral sands, swaying palms, rare shells and the most striking blue-green waters imaginable. Ringed all around its 10sqkm are an endless string of beaches, of which White Beach (west) and Bulabog Beach (east) are the most popular. Water sports are the rage here. Check out the Dragon Boat Races in April/May, or the Asian Windsurfing Tour on Boracay Island. There is lots to do in Boracy Hotels and booking beforehand can help you stay rest assured of a peaceful stay.
Scuba divers love wrecks, and Coron is littered with Japanese warships sunk in 1944, earning it a place on the list of top dive spots in the world. Those interested in surface fun can take a kayak tour of the pristine mangroves around Coron, or try your hand at volleyball on Atwayan Beach. Coron has a string of white-sand beaches sheltered by massive limestone cliffs. Visit Barracuda and Kayangan Lakes and snorkel in their pristine waters. Coron hotels offer a great Stay to tourists from around the world.
This 3km-round island is for the tourist who wishes to get away from civilisation and submerge into nature. For the diver and snorkeler, there is the marine sanctuary, famous for its turtles. Trekkers can hit one of the many paths that range from easy to really tough, including the lighthouse trek that takes you to the highest point. The Eco Trail is a 45-min jaunt through greenery and past lagoons. If none of these catch your fancy, just soak in the sun on the beach.
Cebu City, Cebu
Visit Philippines’ oldest city, and the first to be colonised by the Spanish in the 16th century. The beaches are stunning, with diving the main item on the menu. There are more than 75 dive resorts in the region, and one can even hop across to other nearby islands for underwater explorations. Cebu City is famous for its world-class hand-made guitars; you may want one yourself or know someone who does. Walk around and soak in the architecture that evokes the glorious heyday of the Spanish rule. Cebu hotels are a class apart and offer all the top notch services you could ever expect.
Everyone must see the Chocolate Hills of Bohol at least once in their lifetime. Here, you can see a thousand grass-covered limestone domes, which look like mounds of chocolate stretching away into the horizon. The interior of Bohol is lush jungle, where the world’s tiniest primate, the tarsier (3-6 inches tall) thrives in the Corella Wildlife Sanctuary. Check out the unique coral-stone Spanish colonial churches and the Baclayon Church famous for its antiques. Sail down the Loboc River or, if you dare, zip-line over it.
This is home to Mt. Mayon, an active volcano in the shape of a perfect cone that stands 2,500m tall and is in the running for 7 New Wonders of the World. There is a zip-line off Lignon Hill, with Mayon forming the perfect backdrop. Climbers, trekkers, campers and day-tourists head to the Mayon Volcano National Park. Visit the ruins of Cagsawa Town that was buried under Mayon’s volcanic ash in 1814, a la Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii. So make sure you check out the list of Legazpi Hotels here and book online before starting your journey.
This is a snorkeler’s mecca: to swim along with the majestic whale shark. From November to June, these blue-grey, silver-spotted benign beauties come to this coast, and February to May is peak season where sightings are guaranteed. Scuba diving is prohibited. Once done with the magic of the ocean, try the firefly tour and the shrimp-catching tour at night. Donsol is also exquisite for trekking and biking through the verdant hills. So make sure you have an extended stay at Donsol. Book online after surfing the list of Donsol hotels to save time and money.
There is no electricity or Wi-Fi on Apo Island. The generators go off at 10pm, making for one of the most wondrous sights of the heavens from the beach.